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Open season in the Florida Legislature for stadium tax breaks

It was the equivalent of the tax break Olympics in the Florida Legislature on Wednesday as a range of different sports teams scored approval for new tax subsidies.

The House Finance & Tax committee approved more than $150 million in new subsidies for Major League Soccer, the Jacksonville Jaguars football team and the Daytona International Speedway.

The sports teams join the Miami Dolphins in seeking taxpayer help for building or renovating sports stadiums--and the success of other sports franchises across the state bolsters the Dolphins' chances of getting approval for a new tax subsidy.

The concept of giving taxpayer support to sports facilities has been controversial nationwide, but a stronger budget picture in Florida has given lawmakers more leeway to endorse new tax breaks.

Lawmakers emphasized that the stadium tax deals would help spur economic development in the state by increasing tourism and construction jobs.

"I think it's going to increase tourism throughout the state of Florida," said Rep. David Santiago, R-Deltona, who is supporting the Daytona Speedway bill.

But critics called the deals “corporate welfare” for wealthy sports team owners. Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, said it amounted to “picking and choosing winners and losers” in the marketplace.

The Major League Soccer provision, HB 219, sponsored by Central Florida lawmakers, is widely expected to help draw a new soccer team to the Orlando area. It would offer up $60 million in tax subsides to the new stadium, over 30 years.

The International Speedway bill, HB 1049, would help the Daytona racetrack do a major renovation, providing up to $60 million in taxpayer subsidies.

The Jaguars bill, HB 721,would increase a tax subsidy that currently goes to the Jacksonville stadium from $2 million per year to $4 million per year, kicking in up to $60 million for the team over 30 years. The stadium has already received some $37 million in tax support since 1994, part of more than a quarter billion dollars that have gone to Florida's pro sports franchises in the 20 years.